Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Bird Protection in Illinois
Nature Bulletin No. 550-A   January 18, 1975
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Very few people are indifferent about birds. Almost every bird is the feathered friend of somebody or some organization ready to do battle in its behalf.

At present, in Illinois, songbirds and most other wild birds, together with their nests and eggs, are completely protected by law at all times. A few kinds, called game birds, may be shot by hunters -- pheasants and quail, also migratory ducks, geese, coots, jacksnipes, woodcocks, and doves. Such hunting must be done with shotguns in certain places in certain open seasons with many other detailed restrictions. Now, even crow hunters are licensed. The only unprotected birds are those three immigrants or exotics: the English sparrow, the European starling and the "domestic " pigeon. These, too, have their friends .

The federal and state regulations on hunting are changed from year to year as game bird populations increase or decrease, or as we learn more about the habits of some kinds which were formerly considered undesirable. For example, the last Illinois General Assembly put all hawks and owls on the protected list, except that a farmer may still destroy one raiding his poultry. These predators, as a group, do far more good than harm by catching rats, mice and other rodents. Previously, the great horned owl, Cooper's hawk and sharp-shinned hawk were unprotected, but hunters seldom knew one of these from a dozen or more other beneficial hawks and owls. They pulled the trigger first and looked later.

In their annual migrations between their summer and winter homes many, or perhaps most, kinds of birds fly thousands of miles. Formerly, these travelers were protected in some regions but not in others. In order to correct abuses, two acts of Congress put into effect the Migratory Bird Treaty with Canada in 1918 and a similar treaty with Mexico in 1937. These Federal laws set uniform regulations for the hunting of migratory game birds. Market hunting and spring shooting were stopped. All songbirds and non-game species, such as most shore birds, are given complete protection, as well as certain kinds of waterfowl threatened with extinction.

Just before the turn of the century, the slaughter of egrets and other birds for their plumes and skins to decorate women's hats created such a furor among bird lovers that it led to the organization of the National Audubon Society. Now, we are becoming aroused over the destruction of bird life by the increasingly widespread use of poisons to control mosquitoes, elm bark beetles and other insect pests.

Illinois has many publicly owned refuges for birds and other wildlife -- some large, some small. These provide food, cover, nesting places and rest grounds free from all hunting. Three large federal refuges in Illinois give protection to millions of migrating waterfowl as well as to other birds: the Crab Orchard Lake Refuge near Carbondale, the Chautauqua Lake Refuge in the Illinois River Valley near Havana and, in the northwest corner of the state, about a tenth of the 300,000-acre Upper Mississippi River Refuge. In addition to all of the state parks, the Illinois Department of Conservation maintains the Horseshoe Lake Refuge near the southern tip of the state famous as a wintering ground for Canada geese. Ten Illinois counties have forest preserve districts. Cook County, with over 64,000 acres of forest preserve land, offers security and a choice of natural habitats to suit the taste of almost any wild bird from hummingbirds to wandering swans and eagles.

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